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Lockdown beach clean-ups with no-one around

Patterns on beach sand during a lockdown beach clean-up.

‘I go to the ocean to calm down, to reconnect with the creator, to just be happy.’ – Nnedi Okorafor

South Africans have not been allowed to access the beach or ocean for more than six weeks now; and for us ocean lovers this has been a major challenge. And yet, what a privilege it is to even think of this as a challenge, when so many of our fellow South Africans are contemplating how they can get food from one day to the next under lockdown. Covid-19 has certainly highlighted the contrast between the concerns of the well-off and the poor in our very unequal country. We hope this spotlight can make us better empathise with each other, to bring us closer and to help overcome these hardships and challenges, together.

For the Beach Co-op, cleaning beaches in Cape Town and elsewhere has become part of our core business – connecting people, institutions and organisations through evidence-based education and experiential learning, keeping South Africa’s beaches clean and healthy, and enhancing ocean health.

During weeks four and five of the lockdown, our founder Aaniyah Omardien was fortunate enough to acquire a permit to assist Peter Ryan and his team with some of their beach litter surveys at Sunrise and Muizenberg beaches (another team member focused on Milnerton beach). It was a rare opportunity to meticulously collect litter arriving every day on two 400 metre stretches of sandy beach, for ten consecutive days, without the impact of people adding to or removing litter. Peter and his team will be reporting back on their findings, and we look forward to the insights gained from this unique opportunity.

Aaniyah joined the team from the sixth survey day onwards, when the beaches were relatively clean. Much more was collected on the first day, when the beach hadn’t been cleaned for several weeks. Those first strides along the beach, after three weeks of home-confinement – at sunrise, fresh sea-breeze on her skin, sand between her toes – were certainly memorable and unforgettable for Aaniyah.

She learned from Vonica (a PhD candidate working with Peter) that they had been finding many more plastic bags regurgitated by Kelp Gulls on the beach. Many gulls scavenge food from the large Coastal Park landfill near Sunrise Beach, and often inadvertently consume bags and other plastic packaging. During lockdown, the gulls spent more time roosting on the beach because they were not being disturbed by people and their dogs, so more of the regurgitated plastic were being found on the beach as opposed to the dunes where they usually roost.

During lockdown Aaniyah has been attending a Sustainability Literacy course with Celine Semaan and The Slow Factory – to learn more about waste-led design and how to avoid the linear approach to design thinking. ‘Land Fills as Museums’ was one of the topics addressed on the weekly workshop check-ins. The seagull pellets Aaniyah found on the lockdown surveys have made Aaniyah more determined than ever to boost awareness, and to encourage a shift in the design of food-packaging.

“In nature’s economy the currency is not money, it is life.” ― Vandana Shiva

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